The controversy surrounding use of the PING Eye 2 wedges and their impact on the Rules of Golf, an issue that was eventually settled, masked what was a quiet time for the company earlier this year, according to chairman and chief executive officer John Solheim.
“Actually, January and February were pretty slow months,” he recalled. “The rest of the year hasn’t been, but we wondered what was going to be happening.
“I think it was the general economy that was more the factor for that. The thing that worries me most about our position right now is the economy in general, not the golf economy, and some of the crazy things that could jump up and bite us,” said Solheim of contributing factors around the globe.
In uncertain times, it may be tempting for a company to change direction in a desperation move, but PING was coming off its milestone 50th anniversary in 2009, a history that began with World Golf Hall of Fame member Karsten Solheim working in his garage until the wee hours on products.
That emphasis on product hasn’t wavered over the generations, according to Solheim, and it’s been passed down through him and his son John K. Solheim, who now serves as vice president of engineering. That focus wasn’t about to change in uncertain times, he added.
“It’s all about putting the right team together and it’s really strong. I think John’s got the same passion that I’ve had and my dad had,” said Solheim, adding that emphasis on product began to snowball and turn what started as a quiet year into a memorable one, beginning with Lee Westwood’s runner-up finish at the Masters.
However, the year hit a high peak when South African Louis Oosthuizen won The Open Championship at St. Andrews. Not only was it a major championship for a staff player, but the bonus was that Oosthuizen was also carrying the new S56 irons in his bag before they had made it to market.
“It started out at the U.S. Open with (Gregory) Havret finishing second. We ended up finishing second at every major,” said Solheim. “That was the first time at the U.S. Open that they showed (the S56s) to them. We didn’t expect anybody to put them into play.”
Havret did just that with an impressive result, followed a week later by Miguel Angel Jimenez winning on the European Tour with the S56s before Oosthuizen’s convincing win at St. Andrews. Oosthuizen was also carrying the new Tour-S wedges.
The S56s has had seven wins around the world and nearly 30 players have switched. In addition, PING has enjoyed four consecutive putter wins on the European Tour, three of them from the new Scottsdale Series.
That record is positive for a couple of reasons, one being that it reinforces the company focus on product and that good things happen when you stick to the foundation of your success in the previous 50 years.
“From my perspective and I think my son’s perspective, from the engineering side, it’s just a real satisfaction that your clubs are being played and used to win at the high level. That’s just a phenomenal feel,” said Solheim.
Secondly, it establishes momentum as PING introduces these new products to the industry and to consumers. Solheim says most consumers will lean towards the G-15 and K-15s, but the tour performance of the other products establishes even greater credibility going into 2011.
“I think they get the satisfaction too because they realize if we can build them for the best, we can do an awful lot for (consumers),” said Solheim, adding the company is more interested in moving forward than fretting about the economy.
“We’re really pleased with what our position is,” he said, adding the new Anser forged iron will be introduced to the Canadian marketplace in mid-November.
“We don’t want to stand still. We want to keep moving. We are doing some things to do that. We’re trying to streamline our place. We’re starting some building projects both (in the United States) and in the U.K., so that we can be more efficient in what we do and make things more comfortable for everybody,” he said.
“We’ve got to look at it on a worldwide basis. We’re definitely going to go after things,” added Solheim.
“We’ve got to do it with product and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got some good ideas that show a lot of promise.”